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Star Stories, part 8: Our Clans Among the Stars, chapter 1

Updated: 4 hours ago


Miin-giizis /Abitaa-niibini-giizis (Berry Moon/Halfway Summer Moon), July 19, 2021

Ojibwe star map
Ojibwe Anishinaabe star map created by storyteller artist Zhaawano Giizhik showing our clans in the night sky.

NINDOODEM ANANG (MY KIN STAR)


Inashke!

Anang piidagoojin Gibagakaabamin Nindoodem anang Nindaanikoobijigan

Haw sa!

Nimiikana gwayakwaa Gigichitwaawenimin

Ninga kikinowaatchitoon gindinaadiziwin

agidakamig.


Look!

A star falls through the sky toward me I see you clearly My kin star My forebear

Yes!

My path is straight I give you praise

I will imitate your nature

on earth.


- My personal song honoring gidoodeminaanig, our clans


Gidoodeminaanig giizhigong giwiidosemigonaanig ... Our clans, our bloodlines in the sky, they walk with us ...

Boozhoo, aaniin!


Welcome to part 8 of a blog series titled "Star Stories," in which I connect my and kindred artists' storytelling art – in the form of rings, jewelry, and canvases – with anang akiiwan (the star world) as perceived by our Peoples that since time immemorial inhabit the northern regions of Turtle Island – nowadays called Canada and the United States.


Today's post opens a fascinating doorway to a notion that is nearly forgotten in our day. This notion is based on the primeval knowledge that our system of blood-related kinship called odoodeman, or clans, can be traced back all the way to the star world. Gidoodeminaanig wiidosem wa'awe: Our clans, our bloodlines walk with us, not just on earth but also in the sky ...


The objective of this blog post, in short, is to examine the relationship between our present-day clans and the ancient sky orientation and the worldview of our ancestors, in which, we will learn, humanity, nature, and the spiritual realm are closely connected.


In part 1 of my "What's Your Doodem" series we learned that in Anishinaabe as well as in Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Ininew (Cree) societies, the families, which have an extended nature, are organized into odoodeman (clans), or, in the case of the Anishinaabeg, into phratries (clan groups) that in turn are divided into clans and subclans. We learned that the clan system used to be an important framework of social and kinship signification that related individuals to a specific land and a specific People. The purpose of phratries and clans was to divide labor and spiritual-ceremonial tasks, provide general support, and to stress identity of self and the group.

Simone McLeod Growth Within
"Growth Within," acrylic on canvas by Ojibwe painter Simone McLeod (©Simone McLeod 2013 )

~~ Origin of the word doodem ~~


We also learned that this web of kinship, which has proven itself such an important frame and the binding fabric of our societies, is called gid-oodem-inaanig in Ojibwemowin (the Ojibwe language). This roughly translates into "our blood relations," or "our clans." The stem of the word is -oode, signifying a blood-related kinship; the suffix -m indicates a possessive relationship. It is also possible that "oodem" comes from the same root as "doodam,” which means "to do," “to act,” or “to fulfill,” and "doodosh," meaning "breast." The literal meaning of the word (d)oodem, therefore, could be: "breast from which I draw," in other words: "that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being."¹

The Spirit of Copper Thunderbird, makwa painting on animal hide
Acrylic on animal hide by the late Miskwaabik Animikii depicting the spiritual bond between bear doodem and man.

~~ Animals and the Principle of Anishinaabe Clan Kinship ~~


So, what else did we learn in the previous posts about our clans? The awesi'ag! Without the animals we would not have clans. We learned that gete'ayaag, our ancestors, listened very carefully to the awesi'ag and paid careful attention to their ways because they had great respect and admiration for their innate intuition and spirit powers. This did not only hold true for naawogaadedjig (four-legged animals); the terms manidoowish(ag) and manidoons(ag), which both mean "little spirit(s)" and which were used for the spirits of, respectively, small animal(s) and insect(s), testifiy of this. It was believed that animals disclose certain norms and principles that we, as humans, need for living long and healthy lives. Because of this, and because they understood that animals represent the basic needs of human society, they chose them as emblems for their phrarties and clans. Thus, trough the clanship system founded by our ancestors, the awesi'ag, even in our modern day and age, instill in clan members certain virtues to emulate and provide them with a set of life-long responsibilities to live up to – both individually and communally.


Although nowadays of less importance and in many cases merely symbolical, Anishinaabe clans are instrumental in traditional occupations, inter-tribal relations, and marriages. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries our clans used to play an essential role in warfare, diplomacy, and in maintaining law and order. Clans had become the number 1 binding factor; "tribal" labels held little or no meaning. Individuals regarded themselves as members of a doodem first, then a(n) (immediate) family, and then a community.


On a personal level, the clan to which a person belonged determined their place and role within their community. Gidodoodeminaanig, our kinship system, was not primarily determined by direct blood relations, but by social relations and roles. Kinship, and the clan system that reflected it, was at the heart of all social relationships. Literally all social – and, in some cases, political – interaction was conditioned by kinship.

~~ A Traditionalistic View on the Origin and Function of the Clans ~~


But the real topic of this post evolves around the questions, where did our clans come from, and when, and how, were the geteayaa'ag introduced with its principle? We already learned that Midewiwin Ojibwe tradition² relates that thousands of years ago when the Anishinaabeg still lived in Waabanaki or Dawn Land along the northern shores of the Atlantic Ocean, six great beings emerged from the sea. These beings are called called Midemiigis-gaa-niigaani-gikendangig; prophets who had taken the form of Miigisag (Seashells). These seashell-prophets established a unique system of kinship based on five phratries or clan groups divided into several different odoodeman. Each Miigis Being represented an animal, a bird, a fish, a tree, or a Spirit Being.


In Ojibwe Anishinaabe narrative, clans emerged when the Anishinaabeg lived on the eastern coast of North America long ago, before their migration inland to the Great Lakes region. William Whipple Warren (1825-1853) documented the story of the origin of the clans as follows: When the Earth was new, the An-ish-in-aub-ag lived, congregated on the shores of a great salt water. From the bosom of the deep there suddenly appeared six beings in human form, who entered their wigwams. One of these strangers kept a covering over his eyes, and he dared not look on the An-ish-in-aub-ag, though he showed the greatest anxiety to do so. At last he could no longer restrain his curiousity, and on one occasion he partially lifted his veil, and his eye fell on the form of a human being, who instantly fell dead as if struck by one of the thunderers. Though the intentions of this dread being were friendly to the An-ish-in-aub-ag, yet the glance of his eye was too strong, and inflicted certain death. His fellows, therefore, caused him to return into the bosom of the great water from which they apparently emerged. The others, who now numbered five, remained with the An-ish-in-aub-ag, which became a blessing to them; from them originate the five great clans or Totems…  


Now, the Miigis Being who – still according to official Ojibwe Midewiwin historiography appeared first out of the sea was a fish called Wawaazisii (Bullhead); he would form the phratry whose clans would deliver the teachers, scholars, and healers of the Nation. Bullhead, along with Ajijaak (Crane), Nooke (Bear), Moozwaanowe (Little moose-tail), and Aan’aawenh (Pintail Duck), created the original five clan groups. The sixth Being that came out of the sea, a Binesi-miigisag-ayaa or Thunderbird Seashell Being, is said to have sunk back into the sea after being exposed to the light and heat of the sun; other sources claim that he sank back into the sea to save the Peoples because he was so powerful that it was impossible to gaze at him without perishing ...


So, to describe in a nutshell Anishinaabe clanship according to Ojibwe tradition, one could say that the first clan groups emerged from the sea to teach the Anishinaabeg morality in the form of the Seven Grandfather Teachings and bring community-labor structure (in terms of a set of basic needs and duties) and bring marriage regulation (in the form of incest taboos).

Image: We-nen-wi-wik-ka-ni-an, acrylic on canvas by Ojibwe painter Ezhinwed (Chris Angeconeb). The painting epitomizes the modern-traditional Anishinaabe notion of Gichi-manidoo, the Great Spirit ruling over aki, the world. Its legs seem to rest upon what looks like a Midewigaan (Midewiwin Ceremonial Lodge).



"No matter where or how we look at the universe, it’s full of matter and energy absolutely everywhere and at all times.

And yet, it’s only natural to assume that it all came from somewhere. If you want to know the answer to the biggest question of all — the question of our cosmic origins — you have to pose the question to the universe itself, and listen to what it tells you."

- Ethan Siegel in his blog Starts with a Bang.

~~ A Shift of Worldviews ~~


It was under the influence of the Europeans with their dualistic and patriarchal thinking that the old Anishinaabe worldview shifted into a more “vertical” belief. At the same time, the relationship between the different beings and creatures of earth, underworld, sky, and water became characterized by a more dialectical nature. The modern-traditional Ojibwe and Anishinini (Oji-Cree) conception of a hierarchy of powers – where the Universe consists of three different levels, underworld, earth, and sky, with Gitchi-manidoo (The Great Spirit) sitting on top and presiding all three –, does not appear to have been part of early izhinamowin. Our remote ancestors did not draw such neat lines between the different spheres of the Universe. To them, the lines and borders between creatures and spheres were diffuse and continuously interchangeable, and certainly not conceived in a vertical orientation. All creatures of the sky, earth, and water, while different beings, were seen as interrelated and integrated in one inseparable cosmic whole.


It should be noted in this context that, although the Ojibweg and Anishininiwag had resisted Christianity for a long time (at least until the mid-nineenth century, when they became confined in reservations/reserves), many 19th century Mideg (members of the Midewiwin) were actually members of Christian churches. Mide rituals became heavily borrowed from Scottish Freemasonry, which introduced into Midewiwin a more patriarchal outlook on the society and the world at large. This paradigm shift has been playing, and still plays, an essential role in the shaping of noongom-anishinaabe-izhinamowin (our modern-traditional worldview). It is therefore important to understand that this also includes our contemporary-traditional view on odoodem-gikendaasowin (clanship).


Gichi-manidoo (the Great Spirit), Gizhe-manidoo (the Benevolent Spirit), and "Creator" are in essence modern concepts infused with the male-dominant outlook and the patriarchal, monotheistic god concept that is so typical of Christianity. Before contact with the Mooniyaag (Europeans) there was only bimaadiziwin, life in its broadest sense, and manidoo, which can be translated as both spirit and mystery, and which was in all things of life. The higher power, in the old view, was life itself. All beings and creatures possessed this life and manidoo. The Universe was filled with manidoowiwin (life's spirit-character), which was neutral and genderless. Rather than a male God-like spirit presiding over the world, bimaadiziwin, and bimaadiziwin manidoowiwin, were simply seen as a cosmic source of sacred power suffusing and animating all creatures and things on, underneath, and above the earth that were either corporeal (natural) or incorporeal (supernatural).


Along with a shift in the way our ancestors viewed nature came a new understanding of our clans. Although there is no proof of this, I personally believe based on a combination of instinct and common sense that, under the influence of the social doctrines of the Wemitigoozhi (European) invaders who reached the Great Lakes in the 17th century, and deeply pervaded by the Christian dogmas that came with them, Anishinaabe kinship shifted from a matriarchal to the patriarchal organization that we have today; meaning that before contact, individuals were born in their mother's doodem instead of their father's.


But there is more. There is reason to believe – based on our own gwayakwaajimowin-aadizookewin (true-history and sacred-storytelling) as well as on studies by non-native researchers – that there was once, in pre-contact times, a widespread notion among Anishinaabeg Peoples across the northern regions of Turtle Island (North America) that – at least some of – our clans came from anangoog, the stars.


Haa mii sa geget igo, gidoodeminaanig giizhigong giwiidosemigonaanig ... It is very true! Our clans, our bloodlines among the stars, they walk with us ...


In this context it is therefore easy to see how clanship revolved around the ancient notion that the souls of the deceased transmigrated between the earth and the sky world; clans, therefore, were, before anything else, associated with post-death and transmigratory matters.


By the time (probably around 800 CE) the "modern" Ojibweg/Anishinaabeg had colonized the southern part of gichigamiin aki, this original function of the Anishinaabe doodemic system, namely mortuary regulation, had shifted to the "modern" system of dividing labor and marriage regulation that we discussed earlier.


Baawating Ojibwe burial clan effigies

Tradition dictates that when a person gets buried, their odoodemimazininibii'igewin (clan symbol) appears on the grave to mark their lineage. Also, odoodemimazininibii'igewinan appear in birch bark scrolls of the Midewiwin and in the old treaty documents. The above wood-carved effigies are placed at graves in the area of Baawiting, Sault Ste. Marie.


"When a person dies ... the family lights a fire in their home. Relatives of the dead tend to the fire, keeping it continuously lit until the fifth day after death, when they bury the body. During the first four nights, the family offers food to the spirit. They also offer tobacco, one of the four sacred medicines the Ojibwe traditionally use. (The others are sage, sweet grass and cedar.) They place birch bark matches inside the casket with the body, so that the spirit can use the matches to make fires along its journey to the other world... The land is called Gaagige Minawaanigozigiwining — the land of everlasting happiness.
On the final night, the relatives hold a feast. During the meal, they offer food to the spirit of the person who died for the last time. At the end of the meal, they smoke a final offering of tobacco or place it in the fire. Next, the funeral conductor speaks directly to the spirit, laying out the details of the journey the spirit will undertake in its passage to Gaagige Minawaanigozigiwining." 
 
- Lee Staples,spiritual leader of Misi-zaaga'iganiwininiwag (Mille Lacs Ojibweg), facilitates traditional funerals. Source: Seven Ponds

~~ Birth and Rebirth ~~


The mortal world of our ancestors, as it invariably intersected with the spiritual realm, was basically seen as a reflection of the star world. Knowledge of anang akiiwan gikendaasowin (astronomy), which assisted our ancestors in telling time, direction, and weather, has not only been vital to survival as Peoples but lies at the very base of the anang nibwaakaawin (star wisdom) and anang akiiwan izhinamowin (cosmology) of the Ojibweg and Anishiniwag Peoples. Star knowledge was predominantly – yet not exclusively – the field of the men and women of the Waabanoowiwin, the ancient Anishinaabe Lodge of the People of the Morning Star, or Dawn. In the old world, where you came from was not merely a question of miskwi-inawendiwin (blood lineage), or akiiwi-gikinoo'amaagewin (geography); what really counted was our star knowledge.


Geget, our (relatively modern-traditional) Ojibwe historiography dictates that our first totemic clan groups emerged from the Atlantic Ocean, but a closer look at our ancient cosmology will reveal that Anishinaabe (as well as Ininew) clan system can be traced back all the way to the star constellations that dwell the above-world. The stars taught us everything we needed to know about our clans and also how to build our ceremonial Lodges. This star-origin of clanship and ceremonial practices is a concept that is based on a very old cyclic belief in the sky-earth-sky transmigration of souls. Although Anishinaabe, and in particular, Ojibwe and Anishinini clanship is nowadays mainly a practical system that among other things divides labor and regulates marriage, in the old days (let’s say, in pre-contact times) it had a much deeper and more profoundly spiritual – cosmic – meaning.


Wherein, then, lies the cyclic, cosmological nature of our clan system? you may ask.

First of all, as we saw above, in the old days, before our cosmology became heavily influenced and indoctrinated in the era of forced Christianization, Anishinaabe clan system had primarily a, what could be called, “mortuary regulation” function – meaning, people were given funeral rites in accordance with their doodem clan. Our gaganoonididaa, or end-of-life rituals, still bears witness of this ancient belief; see the above image. Other functions included marriage regulation (meaning a system of exogamy was enforced on the group) and dietary restriction (meaning people were prohibited from eating one's doodem clan animal). Now, let's have a closer look at the cosmic idea behind this system of regulations and taboos. To the ancestors of the contemporary Anishinaabeg and Ininewak (Cree) Peoples, the celestial journey path among the winter stars was seen as highly significant. They believed that when it was time for a person to leave for the eternal existence in waakwiing, the realm beyond the stars, their ojichaag (soul) ascended to the star constellation of their clan animal. A clan doodem before anything else referred to the place in the sky where a person’s doodem must go to achieve REBIRTH of his/her soul. In other words, one’s birth ("origin") referred to the place in the sky where each new generation was created.

Above image shows an acrylic on canvas by Ojibwe Manitoulin/Wikwemikong Elder James Mishibinijima, titled "Starland and Spirits." Our traditional gete-anishinaabeg (Elders) know many stories of anang nibwaakaawin (star wisdom). Some of these anang aadizookaanan (star stories) explain where we come from and which path we follow on earth and which path we travel in the above-world when it is time to reunite with our aanikoobijiganag (ancestors).  Elders and community members relate – through songs sung to abinoonjiinyag, the children – that we enter aki (the below-world, the earth) from waabang (in the east). Waaban, the east, is the direction of, respectively, biidaaban anangoog (the Dawn Arrives Stars), waaban anang (the Morning Star), and mooka'ang giizis (or zaagade), the Sunrise. We are now in the stage of dawn and the beginning of life, and the place where ziigwan (spring season) starts. Next, as we follow the path of giizis the Sun, we reach jibwaa-naawakweg (“Before-noon”), and soon after this we arrive at naawi-giizhigad, or aabitawi-giizhigad (“Mid-day”). This time of day relates to zhaawanong (the Southern direction) and niibin, the summer. Zhaawan, the South, and niibin, the summer, are associated with the stage of learning. We then move on, still following the direction of the Sun's path across the Southern sky, toward ishkwaa-aabitawi-giizhigad (After mid-day). After mid-day we enter the dominion of ningaabii-anong (the West) and dagwaagin (Fall season). This is the final stage of our life and our spirit eyes behold e-bangishimog (the Sunset). Our terrestrial life comes to a halt and owiiyaw (our body) returns to aki, the earth. To get to the next stage means self-reflection and letting go of our ego and we travel to gookomisinaan, our Grandmother, who manifests herself as dibiki-giizis, the Moon. Our spirit then enters the dominions of giiwedinong, "in the North," and biboon, "the Winter." Giiwedin, the North, is the place where we gain wisdom and insight. It means we go back home now our purpose on omizakamigokwe, our Mother Earth is fulfilled. When the first snow falls in the place of biboon our spirit-vision observes how the wenabozho star constellation that shines in the night sky changes into gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter constellation in the above-world. Wenabozho/gaa-biboonikaan (a mighty hunter whom the ancient Greeks called Ὠρίων or “Orion”) points the way to a cluster of stars known as bagone-giizhig – a “Hole in the Sky,” a constellation the ancient Greeks named "Pleiades." Next, as we follow this direction, our jiibay (soul-spirit) travels through this “Hole in the Sky” to enter jiibay-miikana, the Path of Souls. It is at the end of this celestial path – which we see depicted in the above canvas – where we find back our place of origin and reunite with our ancestors. Here we become reborn in the odoodem (clan) of our father and eventually return to the below-world;  the life cycle on earth starts again – and so on –, and the east-south-west-north-north-west-south-east life cycle is complete. (Loosely based on a teaching by Ogimaawab Joseph Sutherland.) 

~~ Stories of Stars and Insects ~~


Before we delve deeper into the topic of how each individual clan on earth relates to a given star constellation above, let's take a moment to reflect on what insects and stars have in common. When we, as human beings, look down we notice how numerous and tiny the creepers and flyers are, and when we look up in the night sky, we marvel at the multitude of them, and also at how small they look from the earth.


Some Anishinaabe aadizookaanan (traditional stories) directly connect insects to the stars. One story relates how the animikii binesiwag (Thunderbirds) helped to create the waawaatesiwag (fireflies) with lightning. The young animikiig were causing a lot of trouble by creating terrible storms, which their parents had to suppress. Their fathers tried to teach them baaga'adowewin (lacrosse), hoping it would calm them down, but their games only made them create more storms as they played. One of these storms was so powerful that it knocked stars from the sky. These stars fell to earth, broke into many pieces, and become waawaatesiwag...³


Like the manidooshag and manidoonsag (bugs and flying insects), the stars that dot the night sky might look tiny from where we stand, but their reflection is everywhere. Both insects and stars surround us every day and night, and they are connected to everything we know. Learning more about them is therefore extremely essential. But how do we do this when they are with so many?


When on clear nights we look up at our relatives that shine in the sky, we can try to grasp and interpret the enormity of their presence and learn from them, but for a better insight it might be helpful to realize that instead of looking at the planetary system in outer space as a whole, focusing on one particular star – or star formation – at the time brings more clarity. Sometimes we understand the cosmos or the universe better by looking at it through a narrow lense, by exploring the whole through small portions of it. The many teachings of awesi'ag (the animals), anangoog (the stars), the odoodem (clan) structures, and aki (earth) herself are brought to life through describing, in text and image, each individual celestial being that roams the Waawiyekamig, or "Round Lodge" as the Anishinaabeg traditionally conceive the cosmos. By watching the visible stars and star formations singly, one by one, we thus enable them to teach us lessons that we can understand. This blog story, which is presented in two episodes (part 8 and 9), does just that: helping us gain an expanded awareness of life on earth by looking closely at the individual star formations that are out there, and, as if they were fireflies, light up the night vault before our very eyes in all their multitude, brilliance, wisdom, and wonder.

Painting by Bebaminojmat.
"Discovering Wisdom," acrylic on canvas by Manitoulan Island based Anishinaabe painter Bebaminojmat (Leland Bell).

~~ The Hole in the Sky and the Path of Afterlife ~~


Inawendin is an Ojibwe Anishinaabe word expressing that everything in life is interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent on one another, and the phrase gakina-awiiya means “we are all related,” literally: “someone is everyone.”


The star stories of the Anishinaabeg Peoples are part of this complex system of spiritual philosophies and beliefs. Anangoog, the stars and planets, have always been regarded as our oldest relatives. Anang Gikendaasowin, knowledge of the stars and other celestial bodies, is found in many aspects of our culture; it particularly relates to our knowledge of aandakiiwinan (seasonal changes), nandawenjige and maamawinige (hunting and gathering activities), manidookewinan (our ceremonies), and - last but not least - our aadizookewin (storytelling).


Some of our spiritual leaders alive today are astronomers who still possess special anang gikendaasowin that our ancestors passed on to them; these specialists, anangoog maamiikwaabanjigedjig or anangoog gekenimaadjig (“star gazers”), still use this ancient knowledge to help guide the day-to-day affairs of their communities. Priviliged in this area are particularly the Waabanoowiwinininiwag, "The Men of the Dawn," members of the Waabanoowiwin, a secretive Lodge that mainly practices its age-old rituals and ceremonies under cover of the night. Much of their knowledge of the Sky Beings is sacred in nature and is used only under special circumstances associated with certain spiritual matters which are never to be discussed in writing, or shared with those who aren’t members of the Lodge.


At the very base of the concept of inawendin lies the traditional izhinamowin (belief or worldview) that our world basically consists of two interrelated realms: a below-realm (the earth’s material world, including the lakes and the underworld of the lakes) and an above-realm (the star-sky-spirit world) and that every person in her of his life must strive to, either in ceremony or everyday life, acknowledge this relationship. Each person on earth was born in a doodem/clan whose origin lay in the above-realm; it was to the same clan she or he returned after death.


What did that mean in practice? Simply put, it means that when a person’s time on earth was up, their jichaag/jiibay (spirit/soul) traveled to the constellation designated by their doodem. This is where it became cyclic: his or her spirit/soul ascended to the giizhigong (above-realm) in order to achieve its proper rebirth into a new member of the doodem in question. The animal associated with the constellation in question was seen as the person's progenitor; in other words, when a person was born in a certain doodem (let's say, the loon clan), it was from Maang (the loon constellation, known as Little Dipper/Ursa Minor in Western astronomy) that they descended and it was to the same constellation they returned to at death. The gateway between the star constellations to the place in the above-realm (where each individual originates) and the below-realm (where she/he lives her/his life) is called bagonegiizhig by the Ojibweg and pakone kisik by the Ininewak (both literally mean: “Hole in the Sky”). HOLE IN THE SKY is known as Pleiades in Greek astronomy. This hole in the night sky is said to be guarded by seven sisters the seven stars that comprise the Bagone-giizhig constellation.

There are many Anishinaabe aadizookaanan (traditional stories) about Bagone-giizhig and how the first anishinaabeg (or their odoodeman) were lowered from the above-world to the below-world. A very old owaanzh mazinaajimowin (cave painting done in red ocher) at Wiisaakode-giishkadinaang ("At the Burnt Bluff") near Mako-wiikwedong, present-day Bay de Noc in Upper Michigan – shows similarities with the Anishinaabe story of Asibikaashi (Spider Woman)/Giizhigookwe (Sky Woman) who lowered the first humans from the Sky World to Earth through the Bagone-giizhig. The anishinaabe in the image seems to be connected to Spider Woman by a spiral umbilical cord. The painting was possibly done by members of the historical Nookezid (Bearfoot) Nation. These Peoples, who originally belonged to the Mamaquectaw Anishinaabeg (Menominee), are believed to have lived in the area at least 500 years ago. According to Anishinaabe tradition, Wiisaakode-giishkadinaang used to be the dwelling place of Wiindigoo, the winter cannibal monster from the North. Wiindigoo is said to have its celestial antipode in the red star called Alpha Orionis on Western star charts. Wiindigoo Anang is one of the stars of the Gaa-biboonikaan constellation, called Orion in Western astrology. More about this topic will follow below.

Bagonegiizhig, the Hole in the Sky star cluster, named Pleiades by the ancient Greek and consisting of seven stars ("Seven Sisters"), is a celestial opening allowing spirits to travel. According to modern-traditional Anishinaabe tradition it was through Bagonegiizhig that Giizhigookwe (Sky Woman) descended to the Earth in order to lower the anishinaabeg (first humans) to the earth. Bagonegiizhig also serves as a gate to the Jiibay-miikana, the Path of Souls, meant for the jiibayag (soul-spirits) of the deceased to travel toward their final destination among the stars. Two important ceremonies are related to Bagonegiizhig: the madoodiswan, or sweat lodge purification ceremony, and the jiisaakaan , or shaking tent ceremony. The seven stars of Bagonegiizhig, besides being associated with the aadizookaan (sacred story) of the seven sisters, are believed to represent the madoodoowasiniig — the Grandfather stones used in the Sweat Lodge ceremony. Those who are involved in the Shaking Tent ceremony see in the star cluster the seven poles used in the construction of the jiisaakaan (Shaking Tent). The jiisaakaan that the jaasakiidjig (shaking tent medicine persons) build also acts as a spiritual doorway, similar to the spiritual doorway that is the Bagonegiizhig.

Elders and traditional stories tell us that the spirit of a person who dies on earth ascends through the Hole in the Sky star cluster via the Jiibay-miikana/Path of Souls toward the place of eternal happiness, beyond the setting Sun; seen in the context of doodem-clan origin, however, it makes sense to acknowledge that the true destination of the person's jiibay is the star constellation that represents his or her doodem-clan. Then, eventually, when it is time to become reborn, the jiibay leaves the doodem constellation and follows a contrary path along the Jiiibay-miikana, descends through the Hole in the Day constellation, and makes its reappearance on earth – into the doodem in which it was originally born. Of course, the idea that the east is where the spirits of humans are born is in line with the fact that the celestial beings, such as the Sun and the stars, move through the sky from east to west. The East to West path of the Sun and the stars is analogous to, what is called, waabanong miinawaa ningaabii'anong bimaadiziwin miikana: the East to West life path that we, as humans, walk on earth and that we, as traditional beings, follow spiritually, through our ceremonies.


In autumn, when the Jiibay-miikana points south, the birds follow it. When this happens the path is no longer called Jiibay-miikana, but Binesiwi-miikana (Thunderbird Road). In spring, the Binesiwi-miikana turns north and the birds follow it back again. A jiibay of a deceased person, once it arrives in the star world, must therefore travel to the south and north, and, in doing so, follows the migratory path of the birds – which our ancestors considered to be carriers of the spirits of the dead. Thus, the jiibay of a deceased person respectively a to-be-reborn person follows the “Thunderbird/Spirit Path” due north or due south. The direction of his or her path depends on which bird migration is underway; in late/spring/early summer the birds migrate north and in late autumn/early winter, the birds migrate south.

~~ THE PATH OF AFTERLIFE GRAPHICALLY EXPLAINED ~~ In modern-traditional Anishinaabe belief, after the body dies, the individual’s ojichaag (spirit) spends four days walking westward to the place where the jiibay (soul) dwells after death. The jiibay then ascends to ishpiming – which is the area between the earth and the sky dome – and then to giizhigong, the dome layer of sky world, through the Bagoni-giizhig (Hole in the Sky; Pleiades). Next, it travels along the Binesiwi-miikana (Thunderbird Path; the Milky Way) toward the Evening Star (Venus), after which it enters waakwi (the realm beyond the sky vault) and, eventually, gaagige minawaanigozigiwining: the Land of Everlasting Happiness. In the archaic, proto-Anishinaabe worldview , when a person died, their celestial journey started in the south. Before the jiibay got on the journey path, it first had to go southward; once it had done that it followed the Thunderbird Path northward until it reached its destination (the star constellation where it originated from). At the north celestial pole, in the Maang (Loon) constellation, sat Giwedin Anang, the "Returning Home Star." Looked at it graphically one could say, then, that the jiibay, after it enters the star world through Bagonegiizhig/Hole in the Sky, begins it celestial journey in the south at Giizhig Anang (Sky Star; Sirius), then follows the migrating birds on the Binesiwi-miikana/Thunderbird Path through the the Orion constellation to the Pleiades, then turns to proceed to the snout of the Gichi Makwa/Great Bear, where it turns again to end at the north celestial pole. Of course, when the same person rebirthed, his or her ojichaag (spirit) followed the same path in reverse order and, together with the birds migrating south, proceeded toward Bagonegiizhig's opening in the sky – and, ultimately, to aki, the earth, where it became reborn in the doodem clan of its progenitors. The above illustration of the Milky Way in the month of January depicts, by means of the purple arrows, the Path of Afterlife as conceived in ancient times by the Algonquian speaking Peoples of the Northern Hemisphere. The jiibay of a decasesed person begins its celestial journey in the south, in the area of Ma'iingan Anang (the Wolf constellation; Canis Major) – or, to be more precise, at Giizhig-anang (Sky Star; Sirius) –, then follows the migrating birds on the Binesiwi-miikana/Thunderbird Path through the three belt stars of Gaa-Biboonikaan/Nanabozho Anang (The Bringer of Winter/Wenabozho’s Star; the Orion constellation) to the Bagonegiizhig/Hole in the Sky, then turns to proceed to the snout of the Gichi Makwa/Ojiiganang (Great Bear or Fisher). From there the jiibay turns again to end at the north celestial pole; to be precise, at Giwedin Anang (the North Star, or Returning Home Star).

"Bear Reflection," untitled acrylic on art paper by the late Anishinini (Oji-Cree) painter Eddy Munroe.

~~The Earth, Air, Water Connection: as It Is Above, It Is Below ~~


In the old days, gidoodeminaanig (our totemic clans) had a tripartite interconnectedness, believed to derive from only three original doodeman -- earth, air, and water. The jiibayag of the deceased were each consigned to their element; earth doodeman (i.e. Bear, Wolf, Lynx, Moose, Turtle, Snake, Beaver) would travel to the Great Bear/Fisher, the Wolf, the Curly Tail, the Moose, the Turtle, the Great Snake, and the Beaver, and air doodeman (i.e. Eagle or Thunderbird or Loon or Crane clans) would travel to the constellations of Thunderbird/Crane/Loon. Water clan people (i.e. Catfish, Frog, Mermaid, et cetera) were generally imagined to be located somewhere along the Path, or River, of Souls. This river holds stories of many water beings.


These water clan beings were sometimes depicted swimming; or they were imagined walking on the side of the river/path, where they helped the jiibayag (souls of the deceased) to find their destiny.


And then of course there is the most prominent Medicine Clan animal, nigig the otter, who — according to Midewiwin tradition — lives side by side with the water clan people in the milky way river of souls, where he, perfectly true to his playful nature, can be seen swimming and sliding up and down its shores, accompanying jiibayag of medicine people who are in search of their celestial origin, bringing them home.*


The celestial Water Clans, which are very old, are still alive; even today they, as well as the more contemporary figure of the otter, play a significant role in our stories and ceremonies and songs and are talked about in some jiibenaakewinan (funeral rites) in the more remote, northern communities across Anishinaabewaki (Ojibwe land).

Giigoonh (Ojibwe Fish clan) is one of the oldest Ojibwe phratries (clan groups). Fish clan members claim that their ancestors were the first to appear out of the Ocean. But there is also a direct link between the fish clans and the stars of the Jiibay Miikana (Milky Way). Noticing how they constantly watch the sky while they swim in the currents of rivers and streams, our ancestors understood that giigoonhyag (fish) have knowledge of the stars as much as they understand the motions of the sun and moon. The Fish Clan are therefore regarded as the peoples' knowledge keepers and philosophers. Even today they are responsible for solving disputes between the two principal leader clans of the Nation (Crane and Loon) on earth, and in the night sky they are responsible for guiding the jiibayag of deceased clan members toward their final resting place among the stars. Illustration by the late Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau).

Contrary to the popular belief that people literally descend from, for example, a fish or a bear or a loon, this was not the original belief with the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak Peoples — at least, not in pre-contact times. That was just how it got translated into the modern Christian worldview. The Anishinaabe term for "descend from" has often been erroneously interpreted in the sense of ondakaanezi ("to originate from an ancestral source"); what was really meant was "pass from a higher place or level to a lower one." For instance, to say “Maang nindoodem” ("my totem is the loon") did not mean the person believed a loon was his literal forebear; rather it meant that all members of his or her doodem achieved their cosmic rebirth at the Maang Constellation. One only has to look at the known traditional constellations to see that the constellations surrounding the north celestial pole correspond precisely to the main doodeman of the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak. Large and smaller land animals and birds, such as makwa (bear), ma’iingan (wolf), bizhiw (lynx), mooz (moose), amik (beaver), ajikaak (crane), and maang (loon) are imagined to have their counterparts in the night sky in the form of those constellations; their movements on earth (or, in the case of bizhiw, on earth as well as in the depths of the earth and the lakes) are mirrored and emulated in the night sky, and vice versa. The Maang is one of the oldest star formations; as old as maang doodem, the loon clan itself.


This ancient Anishinaabe below-world/upper-world view on clanship had specific implications for mortuary practice; namely that upon death, finding one’s way to the proper constellation was seen as an extremely important mission, essential to the continuation of the person’s odoodem.


The graphic shown below shows a map featuring the known Ojibwe Anishinaabeg star constellations. Note that the Bear (in the shape of a Fisher), Loon, and the Crane/Thunderbird Constellations are all tightly clustered around the north celestial pole. This is in line with the above-mentioned ancient belief in a tripartite division/interconnectedness of earth-air-water.

Ojibwe Star Sky map Gaagige Giizhig Everlasting Sky by Zhaawano Giizhik
Gaagige Giizhig ("Everlasting Sky"), an artistic impression of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe Night Sky © 2021 Zhaawano Giizhik

The above image is an Anishinaabe Giizhig Anang Mazinaa'igan, or "Ojibwe Sky Star Map." It is Zhaawano Giizhik's personal artistic rendering of the traditional astronomical orientation of the Ojibweg Peoples. The title of the illustration is Gaagige Giizhig: "The Everlasting Sky." An effort has been made to incorporate into the map the archaic cosmology of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg, as it existed before contact with the European invaders. The map was designed so that the Giiwedin Anang (North Star, or "Returning Home Star"; called Polaris on the Western star charts) is at the center of the map. This reflects the motion in the night sky where, viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, all stars and star clusters and constellations appear to rotate counter-clockwise around the motionless "Returning Home Star." Most planets since their position cannot be fixed on a star map — were placed more or less randomly. The cardinal directions are denoted by Ojibwe words for the four seasons: Ziigwan, or Spring, for the East; Niibin, or Summer, for the South; Dagwaagin, or Fall for the West; and Biiboon, or Winter, for the North. The stars and asterisms and star constellations are positioned as seen from the perspective of a stargazer on earth who looks up to the night sky; hence the positioning of the east/spring at the left side of the map, and the west/autumn at the right side. The pre-contact story of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe aadizookaanan (legends) and the Ojibwe odoodeman (clans) among the stars is told by means of the above illustration, a guiding diagram that takes you on a magic journey to the extraterrestrial vastness of the Path of Souls (Milky Way) and beyond. The artist used drawings of animals/spirits and images of pieces from his jewelry collection to portray the star constellations/clans in the sky. In Ojibwe cosmology it is recognized that the souls of deceased persons leave Turtle Island (the earth; see the turtle hair barrette in the bottom right corner of the image) and ascend through the Hole in the Sky (the Pleiades; see the ring with the spider and sun design) to arrive in the star world. Here, they commence their celestial journey on the Path, or River, of Souls and follow the migratory path of the birds on earth – which our ancestors considered to be carriers of the spirits of the dead – toward the north celestial pole. It is here that they find their cosmic destination the star constellation that represents the odoodem (animal clan) they were born in. In ancient times it was believed that both our stories and the clans of our ancestors originated in the star world. Viewed in that context, the clans and the characters of the aadizookaanan (legends) were more or less mnemonic devices — aiding the memory about what went on in the sky world. These story characters, since they reflected the position and the degree of luminousness of the stars and star constellastions above, changed through time and were usually of a flexible nature. For example, in some of the more archaic legends the character of Nookomis (Grandmother), who was associated with the moon, marries a terrestial bear; the latter was a direct reference to the Great Bear (Big Dipper) asterism in the night sky. In more recent stories of the Ojibweg, the Big Dipper was imagined to be a fisher marten who married a female fisher marten — an allegorical reference to the Little Dipper in the night sky. And then there are other Ojibwe stories in which the Little Dipper, instead of a fisher marten, is thought to be a loon. This Loon constellation in the sky had its terrestial counterpart in the form of the loon — a beloved water bird of the Northern lands , and, by extention, was also regarded to be the birthplace of Maang doodem, the Ojibwe Loon Clan on earth. ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.

~~ Jiibay Miikana, the Celestial Path of Souls depicted on rock ~~


The mazinaajimowinan (spirit writings on rock) at Hegman Lake in present-day Minnesota are linked to a series of Ojibwe constellations in the sky. The position of these pictographs is said to be oriented toward viewing the constellations in the winter sky. It has also been suggested that the man with the outstretched arms is Gaa-biboonikaan, the Ojibwe version of the constellation Orion. This figure is the Winter-maker, who is also— depending on the seasonal context of the story told — associated with Wenabozho, the semi-spirit and benefactor of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.


The three canoes depicted on the panel travel in the same direction; since there are no star patterns in the night sky that exhibit three canoes, it is believed they represent spirits traveling the the Jiibay Miikana in celestial canoes. This "Path of Souls," called Milky Way in the English language, was believed to be the "spirit path" that the souls of deceased humans followed to the spirit world after death. Other names for the Path of Souls are Binesi Miikana (Thunderbird Path) and Nanabozho Miikana (Wenabozho's Path).


If it is true that the position of the pictographs on the Hegman Lake cliff wall was intentionally drawn oriented toward viewing the Gaa-biboonikaan constellation in winter, the moose and wolf (or lynx?), then, could well represent star patterns that can been seen on winter nights below Orion/the Bringer of Winter. The constellation of Mooz (Moose) heralded the fall; the wolf, or rather the path he follows in the night sky, symbolized to our ancestors the phenomenon that some planets travel backward through space. In this particular context, Wolf is not a teacher who walks the Earth with his brother Wenabozho, but a hunter who walks a path in the sky as Giiwitaagiizhig Bimose, "He Walks Around the Sky" as he perpetually follows the tracks of Mooz (the Moose) throughout the Universe. Learn more about the Wolf Sky Path in part 16 of the Star Stories series: The Wolf Above and the Wolf Below.

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